After winning its first three conference games by an average of 30 points, Kentucky had to fight for 40 minutes to hold off Vanderbilt in a close one Tuesday night. A 12-point favorite at tip-off, the Cats went down the wire with the Commodores in Memorial Gym and escaped with a very tough, hard-fought road victory, 87-81.
From an entertainment standpoint, it was one of the worst basketball games you will ever see in your basketball-watching lives. We have the officials to thank for that — they called 43 fouls in the game, mostly of the ticky-tack variety. The game never found its flow because of the frequency of the whistles on both sides of the floor, which is why I don’t think it’s out of line or an overreaction to say all three officials should be fired and deported. They robbed us of a good basketball on ESPN Super Tuesday.
More from the action between the whistles…
MVP: ‘Zay Brisoe
Kentucky’s sophomore guard led all scorers with 23 points and a lot of those came when his team needed a bucket in the worst way. Briscoe repeatedly got to the rack through the Vanderbilt defense and he finished each and every time, as he always seems to do. Whenever Vandy tried to make move, he was there with an answer on the other end. (I call those “Shut the **** **” shots, and he had a lot of them.)
Briscoe’s attack was the Cats’ steady force offensively and proved to be the one thing that could not be stopped throughout the game. He was on the court for over 39 of the 40 long minutes and had five baskets in each half to go along with seven rebounds and five assists, while being the only Wildcat to not commit a foul, somehow.
He did miss every jump shot he took, but we’ll give him a pass on those for now because he did everything else to lead his team to the dub.
De’Aaron Fox was a monster in the second half.
Fox was one point shy of matching Briscoe’s 23 for the game as he finished with 22 on 11-of-17 shooting in the game, earning him MVP runner-up honors. 16 of Fox’s 22 came in the second half after he played only six minutes before halftime due to foul trouble. He then went 8-for-12 from the field when he returned to action out of the break, which, along with Briscoe’s drives, proved to be the difference-maker in the end.
However, like Briscoe, Fox still can’t knock down the jumper (although I think he did get one this time). If those two start hitting those consistently, RIP to the competition. Still, great showing by both guards with 45 combined points.
Malik Monk scored a quiet 18 points.
You know you’re talking about a special player when an 18-point night is just “Meh.” That’s where we are with Monk right now — he scored 18 and didn’t play anywhere near what he is capable of. In this one he was only 6-for-15 from the field with one assist and one rebound in 29 minutes.
Monk did hit the free throws that sealed it, though. With Vanderbilt trying to make some late magic, Monk went to the line and hit two free throws on two separate trips in the final 17 seconds. There was no chance he was going to miss those. Killers don’t miss the kill-switch free throws. Automatic every time.
And for those keeping score at home, it was 63 combined points for the Kentucky guards.
Early foul trouble saved Vanderbilt.
If not for the tight whistle, this game likely would’ve been a rout from the get-go. Kentucky pounced all over the ‘Dores out of the gate to a 9-0 lead in the first three minutes before Fox and Monk went to the bench very early in the game with two fouls apiece. Without that early foul trouble to UK’s two star freshman guards, we are likely telling a different story right now.
The officiating was terrible each way, but don’t let a Vanderbilt fan complain to you. The crap officiating is what made it a ball game.
Kentucky went 1-for-9 from outside.
Shout-out to Malik Monk for keeping that record streak alive. Monk’s three-pointer at the very beginning of the game was the only one Kentucky made all night.
The seniors played very poorly.
John Calipari didn’t get much from Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis or Mychal Mulder and this is a game when they were needed with all of the foul trouble. Willis finished with four points and four fouls; Mulder bricked a couple of three-point tries; and Hawkins didn’t do much of anything either in his nine minutes. You can throw Wenyen Gabriel in that group of no-shows, too.
Bam Adebayo was unstoppable in the first half, not so much in the second.
I spent most of the first half screaming “FEED BAM!” at my television because Vanderbilt had no answer for the big man. He was a perfect 3-for-3 in the first half on the rare occasion he didn’t draw a foul and he was 7-for-8 at the line when he did get the whistle.
The second half was a different story when his touches declined but it was still a pretty good night for Bam with 14 and seven rebounds.
56 free throws in the game.
Fifty. Six. Free throws.
We’ll take that win every time.
The blowout wins are fun and all but you take a win in Memorial Gym however you can get it. Vandy always brings it against Kentucky (Kornet, LaChance, Roberson and Fisher-Davis were all above their season averages) and that backwards-ass gym always affects the opponent.
If you were expecting the Cats to smash that 12-point spread and run away with another easy one, you should know Kentucky hasn’t won a game by double-digits in Nashville since 2005. It’s just a tough place to get it done.
And Kentucky got it done Tuesday night to move to 4-0 in SEC play.